Middle East Centre for Arab Studies
The Middle East Centre for Arab Studies (MECAS) was an Arabic language college created by the British Army during World War II in Jerusalem, and relocated afterwards as a civilian institution to Lebanon near Beirut where it functioned between 1947-1978.
The Middle East Centre for Arab Studies was established by the British Army during World War II in Jerusalem. Between 1944-1946 it functioned in the requisitioned Austrian Hospice (Österreichisches Hospiz zur Heiligen Familie), where it was headed by the English Arabist Bertram Thomas. Its purpose was to teach officers Arabic language and culture. After a short post-war intermezzo in the town of Zarqa in Transjordan, in 1947 it moved to its final location in Shemlan, in the Mount Lebanon Governorate of Lebanon.
In Lebanon the college was reopened by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the British Government. Initially, the school was housed in a small building, but later expanded to a much larger purpose-built facility.
The college gained notoriety as a "spy school" after it was publicly denounced as such by Kamal Jumblatt speaking in the Lebanese Parliament. Although the charge has stuck, and the label is still commonly used, there is little evidence to support this beyond infamous British/Soviet double agent George Blake, who was a student at the school and who was taken from there to Heathrow, where he was formally arrested on espionage charges.
The Civil War made the situation increasingly difficult, and in 1976, MECAS was temporarily evacuated before closing altogether in 1978.
- Sir James Craig wrote Shemlan: A History of the Middle East Center for Arabic Studies, a book in which he gives an account of the school and a description of pre-Civil War Shemlan.
- The name of the village and the story of the college was used by British author Alexander McNabb for a 2013 book, the third of his Middle East cycle: Shemlan - A Deadly Tragedy, the story of a dying retired British diplomat who was taught at Shemlan, who returns to look for an old love.